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Into the Neighborhood

April 21, 2021

“It was difficult to exercise that reaching out muscle and to grow into it,” said Jana Vander Laan, co-pastor of Sahali Fellowship CRC in British Columbia.

Many churches want to “reach out” to their community—but that can be difficult and, quite frankly, scary. Many congregations believe they have too few resources to engage their communities. And many believers might believe they are too shy, too reserved, too introverted, or too busy.

Four years ago, Sahali Fellowship CRC started participating in the Go Local process. A Resonate Global Mission initiative, Go Local is a coaching process for individuals and churches who want to step outside of the four walls of a church building and be the hands and feet of Jesus in their neighborhoods.

“We just felt like Go Local was a discipleship journey,” said Jana. “It starts where a lot more of us are really at, which is that kind of, ‘Wait what? I’m being sent out? I don’t know how to be sent out.’”

But as the church started the Go Local discipleship journey, things started to change. Jana and her husband, Mike, who co-pastor Sahali Fellowship CRC, watched their church members grow—both as individuals and as a church community.

They learned to listen to one another and the Holy Spirit. They started conversations with neighbors. They started praying about decisions and taking action sooner, rather than waiting too much time while fretting over the “right” decision.

“We just started to respond to the Holy Spirit nudges,” said Jana. “Over the last few years, more members have gained courage and freedom. They are not afraid to fail anymore.”

A few months into the coronavirus pandemic, a member of the congregation heard about “little free pantries.” A spin on “little free libraries,” the pantries stocked food and other necessities, rather than books. Her husband built a pantry, she painted it a bright blue, and the church set it up—right at the end of the church building’s driveway.

The church had no idea whether the little free pantry would be helpful for neighbors or not, but that’s a central part of the Go Local process: experimenting. The little free pantry was a step of faith, and the Holy Spirit seemed to take it from there.

“We’ve had neighbors who have really loved it and helped us stock it, and we’ve had neighbors who were able to take from it,” said Jana. “It doesn’t ask any questions … If you need something, take something. If you’re able to give something, give.”

Jana said the little free pantry at the end of the church’s driveway is just one way that she sees members of the church finding ways to serve and connect with neighbors. Many members have also started forming stronger relationships with their neighbors.

“Because we’re sharing our lives more, our neighbors are also seeing our lives more—and so they’re seeing a little bit more what Christian hope looks like, what Christian community looks like,” said Jana. “We’re just learning to follow Jesus, and we’re going to see what happens.”